Jimmy Nzioki

In The World, But Not of It

abraham's tent

The injunction that we should be in the world but not of it is all too familiar to every Christian. But to be honest with ourselves, do we ever give it much thought?

I came across an interesting metaphor while reading a book called: Utmost Ongoing: Reflections on The Legacy of Oswald Chambers. In one of the entries, it quoted the sagacious author of the classic My Utmost for His Highest as having said:

Bethel is the symbol of communion with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abraham pitched his tent between the two.”

The above quotation is based on Genesis 12:8. Now there are lots of lessons we can learn from this. Let me state from the onset what this quote does not mean. It is in no way encouraging us to be double-minded or to live with one foot in heaven and the other on earth. It does not mean that we should be compromised in our dealings with those of the world. It instead points us to live with a thoroughly refined Christian worldview in the present world.

I am reminded of a catchy old Kenyan gospel song that went something like this:

“…Ambia Farao, nimeokoka, sitarudi tena Misri naenda Kanani….” which loosely translates to “…Tell Pharaoh I’ve gotten saved, I am not going back to Egypt, I’m headed to Canaan.

Forgive me for the poor extract, but it will help illustrate my point.

Bethel is the symbol of communion with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abraham pitched his tent between the two

Whenever we think of Canaan (political talk and symbolism aside) we think of it as a type or symbol for heaven while in a true sense it isn’t. Why? Because there were still battles to be fought in Canaan. To help you understand this, Jon Courson in one of his teachings mentioned that it took one day to get the Israelites out of Egypt but forty years to get “Egypt” out of the Israelites. So it is with us today as believers. We need Egypt-worldliness- to be squeezed out of us so we can enjoy the milk and honey of Canaan- the Spirit-filled life. I know, Theology 101 served right there.

How fitting and coincidental that Oswald Chambers- the man who died in Egypt while serving as a Chaplain to British troops in the Egyptian desert in 1917 at the onset of World War I- would pen down for us an analogy of pitching our tents between Bethel and Ai. Chambers explains that we have to pitch our tents where we shall always have quiet times with God, however noisy our times with the world may be. In his book, Biblical Ethics he opines that “the counsel of the Spirit of God to the saints is that they must allow nothing worldly in themselves while living among the worldly in the world.”

However, as believers, we know that it isn’t easy to live out these words. The lull of the world and the pleasures of the world seem to woo our flesh constantly. We want the world to love us, yet Scripture warns us that doing so is risking enmity with the Lord. We want to be recognized and applauded by the world but then we are reminded that it would be in vain to gain it all and lose out on what counts in the end. As John Calvin says, “Nothing is more difficult than to forsake all carnal thoughts, to subdue and renounce our false appetites, and to devote ourselves to God and our brethren, and to live the life of angels in a world of corruption.” Do we then live in despair? Not so.

Acknowledging the struggle helps to some extent. Finding a healthy balance between heavenly concerns and earthly responsibilities is never easy. We are all constantly pulled between piety and pragmatism, between devotion to God and duty to fellow men. All our lives the Christian ideals have to come face to face with the world’s reality around us. As the saying goes, in life we deal not with ideal people but real people.

To borrow from the words of George Grant, from the book Utmost Ongoing:

“A genuinely integrated Christian worldview must be cognizant of both perspectives of the world- and treat them with equal weight. It must be engaged in the world. It must be unengaged in worldliness. It must somehow correlate spiritual concerns with temporal concerns. It must coalesce heavenly hope and normal life. It must coordinate heartfelt faith and down-to-earth practice.” 

He adds:

“Our sojourn between Bethel and Ai enables us to fulfill our responsibilities here without ever being altogether at home. Thus, the high ideals of a Biblical worldview are happily instituted by the grace of God in our lives, our work, and our ministries.”

In conclusion, we can agree with the High Priestly Prayer that Christ made in John 17:15

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (ESV)

2 thoughts on “In The World, But Not of It”

  1. Interesting perspective. That merely being out of the world doesn’t take the world out of us.

    “It took one day to get the Israelites out of Egypt but forty years to get “Egypt” out of the Israelites.”

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